Columns 16.4.2018 01:26 pm

Tony Leon was kind of a nobody in 1994

Former Leader of the Democratic Alliance, Tony Leon talks to delegates, 10 May 2015, at the Boardwalk conference centre in Port Elizabeth, during the DA federal Conference. Picture: Alaister Russell

Former Leader of the Democratic Alliance, Tony Leon talks to delegates, 10 May 2015, at the Boardwalk conference centre in Port Elizabeth, during the DA federal Conference. Picture: Alaister Russell

For Mufamadi to try to lay the blame at Leon’s door for an ANC-led government’s investigation of Mama Winnie is nothing short of pathetic.

In the immediate aftermath of Sydney Mufamadi’s revelation that former DA leader Tony Leon was the person who requested a reopening of the investigation into Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in 1994, we should probably take a moment to remember who Tony Leon was in 1994.

In short, he was a young man, 37 years old, leading a relatively small liberal party called the Democratic Party (DP), five years before he became the leader of the opposition.

In 1994, that honour went to FW de Klerk, who was still at the helm of the National Party, which won 82 seats in parliament following the first democratic elections, with more than 20% of the vote.

Nowadays the DA (what the DP later became) has 89 seats in parliament, but back then it only had seven, having scraped together a relatively meagre 1.7% of the vote.

Tony Leon played a big part in making the DA the major player that it is today, and he did that in 1999 with his infamous “fight back” message against the ANC, which helped to make the DP the official opposition with 38 seats after the National Party more or less imploded and became increasingly irrelevant.

As many might remember, the DP briefly merged with the New National Party (NNP) to become the Democratic Alliance, before the NNP’s leader, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, went running off to join the ANC and was rewarded with a ministerial position.

But we were still a long way from that in 1994. If it’s true (and it is true) that in 1994 Tony Leon was insisting that Winnie Mandela should be investigated for her possible links to various crimes, then what of it? He was the leader of an opposition party, and it’s the job of opposition parties to annoy those who are in power and insist that they receive no special treatment from the law just because they happen to have received more votes than anyone else.

It’s exactly the attitude we’re still seeing from the DA in their continued crusade to have Jacob Zuma face his corruption charges in court. And many are heaping praise on the DA for doggedly continuing that fight.

But we’re today suddenly seeing a huge backlash against Leon (who is basically retired from public life), especially on Twitter, with many saying that the DA should be punished at the polls next year because Tony Leon wanted to see the Mother of the Nation in jail. No doubt the ANC must be rubbing its hands together in glee at the thought.

In many of those tweets, however, we’re seeing people treating Leon’s actions as coming from the Tony Leon we remember: the leader of the opposition and later ambassador to Argentina.

In 1994, he was still something of a political upstart, and for Mufamadi to give the impression that Tony Leon was somehow some sort of powerful figure who could go around ordering ANC-deployed ministers to do anything is completely misleading.

We know the ANC were already masters at ignoring their opposition, even in 1994, and the DP were not even a significant opposition party at the time. Even when Tony Leon became the official leader of the opposition in 1999, his continued appeals to then president Thabo Mbeki to have a one-on-one debate with him were simply ignored because Mbeki couldn’t bring himself to share a platform with what he no doubt considered a political nonentity – a buzzing fly making his whiskers twitch.

If Sydney Mufamadi was intending to clear the air about the police investigation into Winnie Mandela in the mid 1990s when he was the police minister, he’s only succeeded in confusing us more. Because there’s no way that Tony Leon would have had the clout to force government to do anything back in 1994. If it happened, it happened because the ANC wanted it to happen, and they allowed it to happen.

Attempting to pass the buck to Tony Leon now is an absolute (and excuse the pun here) cop out.

But, hey, welcome to politics.

Citizen digital editor Charles Cilliers

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